Data Nuggets: Inspired by teachers, created using authentic research data

This post is by Data Nugget researchers Liz Schultheis and Melissa Kjelvik. See the original article on the MSTA Newsletter website (reproduced below):

Back when we were biology graduate students, we were first exposed to science education through the GK-12 program at the Kellogg Biological Station. We were each assigned a partner teacher who would mentor us as we taught lessons and shared our research with students for the first time. The experience of standing up in front of 30 middle school students was definitely intimidating! Initially we struggled to simplify and explain our research, while also making it engaging for an audience who may never have thought about these ideas before. However we quickly improved as the teachers stood in the back of the classroom and waved their arms when students checked out because we’d used too much jargon or started to nerd-out. They pushed us to describe why the things we were doing day-to-day mattered for the big picture. The teachers’ infectious enthusiasm boosted the passion we had for our research. Working with these teachers and their students quickly became our favorite time of the week.

These same teachers shared that their students were struggling when faced with data from classroom inquiry projects that turned out messy or did not follow predictions. Typically, students are only exposed to research and data published in textbooks, leading to the misconception that all science is a completed product with well established ideas and clear results. As graduate students we had access to tons of messy data from our own dissertations, and we felt by sharing our research stories we might be able to help students realize that when doing “real science” things are bound to be unexpected and unclear. Over time, we developed Data Nuggets from these ideas. Data Nuggets are classroom activities that bring students through the entire process of science, sharing the story of the scientist behind the data and an authentic dataset from their work. Students are challenged to graph and interpret the data, determining whether the data supports the scientist’s hypothesis or what future research would be necessary to fully answer their questions. Data Nuggets are also a way for us to share what we learned as GK-12 fellows with other scientists, as we guide them through the process of creating a Data Nugget of their own.

This past summer we were lucky to work with some of these same teachers again. As a group we read through student responses to Data Nuggets. This was a powerful way to identify areas we could improve to encourage deep student thinking and rich classroom discussions. While reading student responses, the teachers collectively noticed that students had a difficult time using evidence to support their claims, so they developed a tool to scaffold students into this process. To learn more about Data Nuggets and the tool they developed, make sure to come to our MSTA workshop Data Nuggets: Scaffolding claim-evidence-reasoning using real data in context.

As we continue to develop Data Nuggets, we are exploring the challenges and opportunities created when using real data in the classroom. Today we have 54 Data Nuggets (and counting) on our website, freely available and used by thousands of teachers and students. We are currently funded on a National Science Foundation Discovery Research pre-K-12 grant. The main objective of the collaborative grant, between MSU and Biological Science Curriculum Study (BSCS), is to assess whether Data Nuggets increase students’ quantitative reasoning abilities, along with their understanding of, and engagement with, science.

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